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By Jan Bryant

I recently heard a song I liked called “If I Only Had Time”.  It made me think how often we hear, or say, those few words.  I was also reminded that the concept of time is extremely ambiguous.  It shouldn’t be.  We all know the scientific facts – there are definitely sixty seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour – but that’s not how it feels on a daily basis!

Look at all the emotional clichés we use to relate our view of time.  Time can race by.  Or, it can drag.  We can make time.  We can lose time.  We’re often trying to find time.  Time is regularly blamed for problems we experience and used as part of our excuses for commitments we haven’t met.  Interestingly, both our best times and our worst times can be caused by having too much time on our hands, or too little.

So let’s be clear on this – we rarely relate to time from a scientific point of view, and we regularly relate to time from a subjective and emotional point of view.  The big question is – how does this somewhat irrational relationship with time impact on building healthy and productive relationships in our business and private lives?

Many years ago, attending a Time Management course, the trainer said that whenever we say “I can’t find time to do that” we give away our adult responsibility.  It’s behaving like a captive with no choice.  He said that we would do better to say, with honesty, “I just didn’t make the time to do that.”  He argued that we are making choices all the time about what we will “make time for” and what we “can’t find time to do”.

I began to consciously notice my time choices.  I quickly noticed that I rarely “found time” to do the long walks on cold mornings.  I noticed that the breakfast dishes now seemed far more important than hitting the frosty streets in tracksuit and runners.  By the time I had finished the dishes, plus another dozen indoor tasks I usually avoided, there just wasn’t enough time for that walk!

One of my friends told me that her husband worked such long hours that he never had time to mow the lawns but never missed his Saturday golf game.  A 23 year old I know can’t find the time to complete her university course work, but sits up late each night chatting online with friends and strangers from all over the world.

In our private lives, many of these choices being made about what to do, and what to leave undone, may not seem to matter that much.  But we have to consider the bigger picture and examine the habits we create in our choices around time.

time exAs you read this, ask yourself – do I “make time for” the things that promote my health, my productivity and my overall wellbeing?  When our lives are filled and overflowing with things that have to be done just to keep us on the economic track, that concept of wellbeing is easily pushed aside.  At the same time we know;  we think better, work better, love better, and feel better, when we look after ourselves and care about the choices we make on how we spend our time.

In our business lives, our time related choices can seem daunting.  Many employees feel as though they face a barrage of constantly varying tasks, with demanding deadlines, driven by competing colleagues.  Their choices in time management become enmeshed in the dramas of the people around them.  The principles of task assessment and prioritising can seem impossible.  The struggle to stay afloat can easily swamp any concept of planned productivity.

When worry and frantic effort become our major time management tools, productivity decreases along with personal wellbeing.  At that stage employees often need support to re-assess their declining situation and reclaim the time management habits that produce satisfaction and a sense of self-management.  At work, as well as privately, what matters is our relationship with time and how we decide to interact with the time available and the others who share that time.

Sometimes we learn that the best time management decision we can make is to choose to come to a complete stop.  Step back and assess our current attitude and behaviour, then decide on our next best step.  Increasing our effort when we’re heading down the wrong track has never been a productive strategy.

There are two main parts to the challenges we face around personal and workplace time choices.  The first is to have enough self-awareness to know what best assists our wellbeing and what most drains it.  For instance, the one kilometre walk to the shop to buy an apple beats sitting on the couch all day eating chocolate biscuits.  Producing a prioritised plan for a workday that we know is going to be overfull, beats doing whatever task captures our attention next.  Not all situations however, are as obvious as these ones, and our wellbeing must include our psychological health, our physical health, and our capability health, and that’s a pretty complex mix.

The second part to the challenge is recognising that if we don’t want to do something, even when it’s for a good outcome, it will be very easy to find other things that “must” be done instead.  When we are motivated to avoid a certain task, we find it very easy to feel motivated to commit time to an alternative such as email, or a chat, or even tidying the workplace kitchen.

Playing the procrastination game is not the end of the world, but we need to consciously accept the outcomes that regularly follow.  They might include loading our bag with unfinished work to take home that night, or having to skip lunch to catch up the next day.  When we procrastinate at home or at work, we are clearly managing our available time, but we are managing for avoidance not for achievement.  Avoidance rarely produces that happy sigh of contentment we get from task or project completion.

Contemporary research indicates that many benefits flow from increasing our wellbeing, making productive choices, and creating time to ensure those choices happen.  We can certainly build a healthier relationship with the concept of time and see it more as an enabler, rather than as a negative force.  More importantly, we also build a healthier relationship with ourselves and the way we think and act in all aspects of our life, and that flows on to others around us – and how nice is that!

If you’re still with me you obviously made the choice to take time to read this article to the end.  I hope you think it was time well spent.  So what are you going to do next?  Will it be a “must”, a “should”, a “might” or a “could”?  Whatever you choose, I wish you a productive, satisfying and healthy time!

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